Pizza alla pala from Cafe Olli’s wood stove. Janey Wong
In case you were too confused by the holiday or were busy regretting 2021’s restaurant closures, there was a bright spot at the end of the year in our local food scene. The full-time worker-owned Cafe Olli opened on December 9th. The restaurant is centered around the iconic brick oven that defined former resident Ned Ludd, and is a promising step into the future of Portland’s restaurant landscape.
Co-founders Ryan Dirks, Cami Wong, Daniel Green and Taylor Manning have all previously worked for Submarine Hospitality; bouncing ship – eh, submarine – in the last year and a half or so, burnt out after long hours of to-go food during the pandemic. The founding crew is rounded off with Manning’s real partner, pastry chef Siobhan Speirits. The project arose organically when members of the group were simultaneously looking for commissioner kitchen space, and is also the development of Green’s pizza project Little Olli, which appeared over the weekend in Pomarius Nursery throughout 2021.
Although team members all bring different skills to the table, they prefer to keep their roles more blurred than a typical restaurant and maintain a collaborative and democratic environment where staff have an influence on decision-making. People in front of the house can be found preparing vegetables and the like, and people from behind will pop out to deliver things to tables now and again.
“We had a lot of conversations about different places we worked and things that we saw as important to what we would do if and when we were going to do something new in the industry,” Dirks said. Industry veterinarians have built the smaller hierarchical workplace they “always wanted”, prioritizing things like staff ownership, open bookkeeping and offering a living wage, health care and paid time off via a 20% service charge. Service fees that replace gratuity have gained ground among Portland restaurants in recent years. Most recently, Kachka made headlines for implementing a profitability policy.
Dirks is responsible for leading the employee ownership model. Based on examples he had seen from UK companies, the new venture has created an Employee Ownership Fund (EOT). In essence, half of the company belongs to the employees and they will receive dividends when it becomes profitable.
The cafe strives to be flexible and leaves how it is used up to its patrons. Do you need a cup of coffee and a grab-and-go pastry on the way to work? Coming straight up. A more comprehensive sit-down breakfast? Olli has you too. The breakfast is served from 9.00 and until kl. 14.00, which provides another good opportunity for everyday brunch, which this lazy bones writer greatly appreciates. Day and evening menus bleed smoothly from one to the next. You can stop for a drink and a quick bite if you are going to or coming from somewhere, or get a full dining experience.
Day or night, the cafe offers a communal meal ($ 0- $ 14) to anyone experiencing food insecurity or financial hardship without question. “Sustainability and our food supply systems are a big part of what we do and there is an economic benefit [of] to be able to access it, then [we] wants people who want access to it to have the means to do so, ”said front of house chief Cami Wong.
Pizza alla pala by the piece is available from lunchtime (noon-5pm) and dinner service goes over to the entire pizza tonda (round pies). Green learned the two styles when he spent six months cooking in Rome. Eaten for breakfast or lunch in Rome, the long pizza alla pala is cut into rectangular slices. (Green says that even if the cafe does not serve it that way, it is traditionally eaten folded … go ahead and use the information you want!) A classic tomato, garlic and oregano flavor is available daily along with a rotating white pie. Green describes his pizza tonda as a cross between New York style and the traditional “super-thin and crisp” Roman style.
For Green, there was zero learning curve in working with the wood-burning stove inherited with the space. Provided, the model is a larger version of his own mobile oven. Both were made by Mugnaini, a Sonoma-based company that imports their clay from southern Italy.
Green also handles the cafe’s bread program, which offers all of its naturally raised breads for purchase in addition to using them for the menu’s toasts and market sandwiches. Speirits, who made a stay at Coquine, and as you may know from her quarantine project Saint Frances, now stands for breakfast cakes at the all-day café. The cornerstones of the confectionery box include scones, old-fashioned donuts, breakfast buns and cookies in a rotating flavor.
A chocolate cake and citrus poppy seed cake are among the selected pastries. Janey Wong
Former Ava Genes head chef Taylor Manning leads the pasta on the dinner menu. Manning first learned the art of making pasta when he went to culinary school in Emilia-Romagna, and later he honed the craft under JoMarie Pitino at Ava Gene’s. “It’s always a learning process,” Manning says. “There are so many different types of pasta, and I really love exploring where all of these traditions come from.” On these cold winter nights, diners snuggle into the current menu’s two soul-warming choices: tortellini en brodo or rotolo, a rolled lasagna.
While Olli offers a glorious trifecta of carbs, pizza, pasta and pastries (seriously, this is where you want to be if you are in hibernation and carb loading this winter), the products and meats that dictate their taste are offered , the same degree of respect. The cafe tries to make as much whole animal slaughter as possible and picks up seasonal ingredients from coveted farms like Wild Roots, Ayers Creek and Pablo Munoz. Fresh pasta takes the form of Trent Family Farms’ farm-fresh eggs and double zero flour from Camas Country Mill or semolina flour from Bob’s Red Mill.
The building’s adjoining event space, which is used for bread and pastry production in the morning, will be closely linked to the restaurant, as will the relationship between predecessors Ned Ludd and Elder Hall. In addition to being available for private event rentals, the team is dedicated to offering it for free or a nominal fee to people looking for a place for pop-ups and community events, whether it is food-related or not.
Cafe Olli, 3925 NE Martin Luther King, (503) 206-8604, cafeolli.com